Risebridge helps the unhoused in Nanaimo during heat wave

Risebridge helps the unhoused in Nanaimo during heat wave

Michael Norbury is among those currently unhoused in Nanaimo whose been looking out for friends lying in the sun. He says many living on the street have sunburns.

“Definitely. You can see a few people along here, and they’re burnt. He’s too hot. He can’t even get out of the sun anymore,” said Norbury.

“We keep moving him.”

The unusually hot stretch of weather for mid-May is not easy to handle for many people, never mind being homeless. It caused the social services agency Risebridge to take action.

Risebridge’s executive director says they opened their doors Monday without funding and treated over 30 major sunburns and other cases of heat stroke.

They also handed out water and electrolytes to hundreds during the past five days. Still, their outreach services are at risk of running out of funding in two weeks, and they say nobody has answers about what heat relief will be available for the unhoused in the coming months.

Cowichan Valley’s Medical Health Officer with Island Health also sits on the BC Heat Committee and says the under-housed are more vulnerable during hot weather.

“With the weather as we’ve had over the past weekend, certainly those in under-housed situations would’ve been far more exposed and far more likely to experience some of the impacts such as dizziness, sometimes loss of appetite, extreme thirst,” said Dr. Shannon Waters.

Waters said the nighttime lows are key in terms of people being able to recover, and with overnight temperatures dropping enough, it hasn’t reached the criteria for a heat warning. Despite that, she says people need to look out for the vulnerable on the streets.

“These are members of our communities, and we need to think about them,” said Waters.

“There are many things happening with our changing climate where being in outdoors or under-housed environment is going to expose you to far more risk, and I think taking that into consideration at a community level and a health system level is really important.”

Waters says communities are planning for extreme heat events this summer, and the City of Nanaimo confirmed it’s among those preparing for such events.

Norbury says he sees many empty buildings and wonders why there isn’t a readily available solution to helping those living out in the elements.

He says that while the hot weather is dangerous, he’s still more concerned about people who harm the homeless. He recalls suffering burns on both legs from two separate occasions of people maliciously setting him on fire.

Kendall HansonKendall Hanson

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